So it’s Christmas again, and that surely is a fitting time to think about the birth of Jesus. The words of the messenger Gabriel to Mary are quite staggering really, especially when one considers her lowly estate: “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1.31-33). Many of the terms used to declare Jesus’ status were also used for Caesar—Lord, Son of God, Bringer of Peace, and Saviour of the World etcetera. But one title that Caesar avoided, Jesus accepted; at least when it’s rightly understood, and that title was “King” (that is, Christ or Messiah). Of course, Caesar’s avoidance of the title did not mean he eschewed the role, and in Asia Minor his subjects had no hesitation in giving him the royal title. Like most modern dictators (for example, Mohammed Morsi), Caesar purportedly only took absolute power for the benefit of the people. Given the Christian claims about Jesus, it was inevitable that his movement would clash with the Roman Empire, and clash it did—beginning with the crucifixion of Jesus.
But what kind of King, Lord or Son of God was Jesus? And what kind of Kingdom did he reign over? Well he was a servant king: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45). “Son of Man” by the way is a divine title from Daniel 7.13. His kingdom was one to which the poor belonged (Luke 6.20), in which the persecuted found a place (Matthew 5.10), and into which the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind were invited to sit at the King’s table (Luke 14.13-21). His is a kingdom not after the models of this world (which fight over gold and silver with weapons of bronze and iron—Daniel 2); his is one where God’s will is done as it is in heaven; it’s characterised by the power of love rather than the love of power. One enters it with humility, which is the precondition of accepting the grace or the gift of God–and that gift is Jesus (2 Corinthians 9.15). Let’s pray that this kingdom of reversals, this antidote to human pride, is truly a “kingdom without end,” as Gabriel declared at the conception of Jesus.
Note: Within my lifetime of ministry, Adventists have changed from being dismissive about Christmas to being enclosed by (all too often) the tinsel that Western culture wraps around it. Dr Young (see the section about him in Post 86) is one of my most cherished New Testament exegetes. His brief paragraphs (above) express one way that a New Testament scholar helps us understand the meaning of this special time of the year.
Arthur Patrick, 18 December 2012